Lawmakers Reject USDP Bid to Get Around Government’s Charter Reform Panel

Lawmakers have thwarted a second attempt by the military’s proxy party to circumvent the government’s charter reform efforts by putting their own proposed changes before parliament.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) tried to submit a draft bill this week with several proposed changes to the widely criticised 2008 constitution.

The military-friendly bill offered little that would challenge the generals’ role in politics, while the National League for Democracy is seeking to gradually remove unelected soldiers from parliament, among other changes.

The NLD used its supermajority to easily defeat the bill on Wednesday, meaning the USDP’s proposals will instead be discussed by a committee that is also dominated by the ruling party.

There were 376 votes in favour of having the NLD’s charter reform committee, rather than parliament, discuss the draft bill while 203 opposed the idea.

The defeat drew anger from the USDP, who have repeatedly argued that the NLD’s committee is unconstitutional.

“This is not appropriate!” USDP spokesperson Thein Htun Oo told reporters as he left parliament after the vote. 

The charter amendment committee, made up of 18 NLD MPs, eight military MPs and representatives from various smaller parties, has submitted a list of more than 3,700 proposed changes that will be whittled down and turned into a draft bill.

The committee originally had 45 members but three from smaller parties quit on Monday to protest the NLD’s handling of proceedings. MP Sein Win told Myanmar Now this week the NLD was “bullying” smaller parties and disregarding their input.

The USDP’s proposed changes to the charter include stripping the President of the power to appoint regional chief ministers and allowing local parliaments to elect them instead. They also want to change the way election disputes are dealt with.

The USDP tried to pass the amendment regarding chief ministers in February but was defeated.

Suggestions for amendments by the NLD and other parties are far more radical.

Some want to immediately abolish the clause that allows the military to appoint a quarter of all MPs in parliament, while the NLD wants to gradually reduce the number of military MPs over several election cycles.

Thein Htun Oo, the USDP spokesperson, said the NLD’s charter reform committee violates chapter 12 of the constitution, which says 20% of lawmakers must sign on to a bill proposing amendments.

There is no suggestion the NLD set up the committee to avoid submitting a bill to parliament with the required signatures, something it could do with ease. In fact the committee is working on a draft bill now.

But Thein Htun Oo argues that submitting the bill with enough signatures should be the first step in trying to change the constitution. 

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